Traditional uses of Valerian
The root of Valerian, a perennial herb native to North America, Asia, and Europe, was most commonly used for its sedative and hypnotic properties in patients with insomnia, and less commonly as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety relaxant). Today, multiple preparations are available, and the herb is commonly combined with other herbal medications, such as Skullcap, Passion flower and Hops.
MEDICAL USES OF VALERAIN
Several clinical studies have shown that Valerian is effective in the treatment of insomnia. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (where neither the doctor or the patient know what has been prescribed) compared a 400-mg water extract of Valerian and a commercial Valerian/hops preparation with placebo of encapsulated brown sugar. A total of 128 volunteers completed the study which evaluated the effects of single doses of Valerian taken in random order on sleep latency, sleep quality, sleepiness on awakening, night awakenings, and dream recall. Valerian extract demonstrated statistically significant improvement over placebo in sleep latency and sleep quality1.
In another double-blind study of the effects of Valerian, eight people who described themselves as having lengthy sleep latency, wore a wrist activity meter to provide subjective sleep ratings. Participants received either a 450mg or 900mg dose of an aqueous extract of Valerian root or placebo. Significant decreases in sleep latency and more stable sleep during the first quarter of the night resulted. However, the 900mg dose produced increased sleepiness on awakening compared with the placebo group2.
Several other studies have shown Valerian's efficacy in patients who do not have sleep disturbances. A small study of 10 patients at home and eight patients at a sleep laboratory who received two different dosages (450 and 900 mg) of an aqueous extract of Valerian root demonstrated that both groups experienced a greater than 50 percent improvement in sleep latency and wake time after sleep onset. The efficacy results were based on questionnaires, self-rating scales, and night time motor activity3.
Anxiolytic properties of Valerian
One randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial compared a Valerian-propranolol combination (100g of Valerian and 20g of propranolol - a beta blocker heart medication often used for heart palpitations) and placebo in an experimental stress situation in 48 healthy subjects. Unlike propranolol, Valerian had no effect on physiologic arousal but significantly decreased subjective feelings of somatic arousal4.
What is somatic arousal please Stephen?
Another Randomised Controlled Study compared 120 mg of kava, 600 mg of Valerian, and placebo taken daily for seven days in relieving physiologic measures of stress in 54 healthy volunteers. Valerian and kava, but not placebo, significantly decreased systolic blood pressure, heart rate reactions to stress, and self-reported feelings of stress5.
Contraindications of Valerian
Valerian is generally regarded as a safe herb however it should be avoided during pregnancy unless professionally prescribed. Although the adverse effect profile and tolerability of this herb are excellent, long-term safety studies are lacking6.
Drug Interaction with Valerian
Although Valerian, like any herbal medicine, can conflict with medications, no significant herb/drug interactions with Valerian have been reported6. However, we do advise that before using this herb or any other herbal preparation, to consult your health care professional.
Therapeutic/safe dosages of Valerian
Valerian has been shown to be beneficial in certain conditions such as insomnia at dosages as low as 400mg daily. However, studies on improving sleep quality may require dosages around 2000-3000mg one hour before bed. Please refer to a qualified herbalist/naturopath for more accurate dosages that suit your particular condition6.
Other herbs that can be used with Valerian
As with many herbal preparations, herbs are often combined to make a formula. This formula usually contains herbs with a similar action thus improving the effectiveness over a single herbal preparation. Herbs that are commonly found with Valerian include:
- Passion flower. This herb does help restore proper sleep however it’s proudest achievement is its ability to reduce anxiety in patients. In many ways it’s actions are similar to Valerian however, in my opinion, Valerian may be a more potent inducer of sleep, where as Passion flower is more effective at reducing anxiety.
- Hops. Best known for their use in the production of beer, hops also reduce anxiety and insomnia. While not as well researched as Valerian and Passion flower, Hops should not be overlooked by the stressed out individual or someone suffering from sleep problems.
- Zizyphus. A Chinese herb, Zizyphus has traditionally been used for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. However it may also be useful in the reduction of pain.
- Chamomile. Chamomile is a calming herb that has a powerhouse of science backing it’s actions. Often used as a relaxant, Chamomile also sooths gastric upset and reduces pain and inflammation. Further, because Chamomile has mood elevating effects, it can help with mild depression.
Valerian is a highly prized herb and has been used for thousands of years for the treatment of insomnia and anxiety. Clinical trials now support these uses and there is weighty scientific data that supports the medicinal uses of this herb. While Valerian is generally regarded as safe, interactions between this herb and medical drugs are possible. If you are on medication of any kind, please check with your health care professional before taking any herbs.
1. Leathwood PD CF, Heck E, Munoz-Box R. Aqueous extract of Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1982;17:65-71.
2. Leathwood PD CF. Aqueous extract of Valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Med. 1985;2:144-8.
3. Balderer G BA. Effect of Valerian on human sleep. Psychopharmacology. 1985;87:406-9.
4. Kohnen R OW. The effects of Valerian, propranolol, and their combination on activation, performance, and mood of healthy volunteers under social stress conditions. Pharmacopsychiatry. 1988;21:447-8.
5. Cropley M CZ, Ellis J, Middleton RW. Effect of kava and Valerian on human physiological and psychological responses to mental stress assessed under laboratory conditions. Phytother Res. 2002;16:23-7.
6. Hadley S PJ. Valerian. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(8):1755-8.
The information contained on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not provided to diagnose, prescribe or treat any condition of the body. The information on this website should not be used as a substitute for medical counselling with a health professional.